Strand Of Oaks: Out Of Chaos

Photo by Maclay Heriot

Timothy Showalter is having a splendid day. He hasn’t been raving at an international music festival, or been taking psychedelics in the desert, nor has he even been touring the country with his rock band, or, in general, taken part in any of the antics that the mastermind behind Strand of Oaks, Showalter’s recording moniker, has become notorious for over the past several years. Instead, on this sunny Philadelphia afternoon in late December, Showalter is in a wonderfully good mood after going on a long walk and purchasing a particularly tasty Americano at his local coffee shop. He’s enjoying some rare time off in between a European promotional tour he’s just finished and the impending full year of touring behind his new studio album, Hard Love, that he’s about to release.

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Showalter’s newfound fondness for a peaceful home life is one of the central themes running throughout Hard Love. It can be heard plainly on “Quit It,” in which he sings “I’d give up my best times for some order” several times. Or, on the album’s opening title track, an ode to lasting love in which Showalter repeats the line “Good love, we don’t hold it enough” during the song’s emotive chorus.

“Someone was just asking me last week about that song,” Showalter says of the latter. “They were trying to dig some deep meaning out of the lyrical content, and I was just like, ‘that song’s just about wanting my wife to get home off the train because I really want to have sex when she gets home. It’s not complicated: I just want to get it on.”

Showalter is as surprised, and thrilled, by this turn toward the domestic as anyone. After several years of constant, party-fueled antics on the road touring behind Heal, his breakthrough album that chronicled an intensely emotional road to self-destruction and the fragmentation of personal relationships, Showalter has arrived at a much more sustainable equilibrium. “When I made this bold record called Heal, I didn’t have any game plan of how to actually heal, no formula of how to get better,” he says.

“It’s different from the last time, because I really like being at home now,” Showalter continues. “I’m growing up a bit and I now understand that it’s good to have that balance with some contentment, which was a word I never used to have in my life. I never allowed myself to say: ‘You can be content.’ It’s so important to not live in chaos all the time. Me, I need to be naked in the desert fucking screaming at the moon on whatever drugs you can give at times in my life. But it shouldn’t happen all the time. I still want to hold on to my Dionysus level partying, but I also want to hold on to the fact that I just fucking love Sunday afternoons watching Star Trek: Next Generation with my cat. I love raving in Barcelona, but I also love going to the grocery store and buying gnocchi.”

Showalter began writing and demoing songs for Hard Love in the spring of 2015. Later that year, he recorded the album in the same fashion he recorded Heal: recording all the instruments by himself while working with producer Ben Vehorn.

Dissatisfied with the results (“the problem, for me, was I was repeating myself”), he scraped the album, threw away half the songs, and spent three weeks writing before re-entering the studio with new producer Nicolas Vernhes and a studio band led by guitarist and old friend Jason Anderson. “I realized that I needed just a little less Kurt Cobain and a little more Exile On Main St.,” he says. “I needed to just loosen this shit up. I wanted to hear the beer cans opening and I wanted to hear the sweat. That’s the word we used so much: we wanted it to be sweaty. And we pulled it off.”

Showalter says the aspect of Hard Love he labored over the most was the sequencing. He becomes most animated when discussing his new album when I point out the dramatic transition from the party-crazed rocker “On The Hill” to the piano ballad comedown on “Cry,” which, it turns out, he had purposely marked as the transition from Side A to Side B for vinyl diehards.

One sequencing decision that did come easily, however, was using the eight-minute epic “Taking Acid And Talking To My Brother” as the album closer.

Of all the songs on his new album, which he dedicated to his brother Jon, Showalter is most proud of the final track, his attempt at processing the trauma of his brother’s near-death experience after sudden cardiac arrest.

“I named that song ‘Taking Acid And Talking To My Brother” because I didn’t take acid, because sometimes in life, as it happens to all of us, the most psychedelic things aren’t drug-related, they’re just experiencing something that you have no control over,” he says when recounting the experience of watching a family member narrowly escape death. “There is no justification or reason for why these things happen, you just have to endure them.”

This article appears in the March/April 2017 issue, available on newsstands March 10.

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